February 13, 2008

A Weighty Issue

Pardon me while I deviate from the usual political topics. This weekend I was stunned by what I saw. No, it wasn't Tom Christy with his hair combed. It wasn't John Lombardi on a basketball court, and it wasn't Tim Marren at a John McCain rally.

It all started on Saturday when my wife said she was heading to Tops to do the weekly grocery shopping. At that point, I announced I would like to go. Now, our grocery bill usually hovers around $180 a week. This, combined with my propensity for sweets, brought my wife to a stunned silence. Afterall, me in the cookie aisle could make for an ugly, ugly grocery bill.

So we headed off to the store where I found my wake-up call. In a nutsell, I cannot believe how much junk food this store sells. I found myself literally at a standstill. Aisles and aisles of crap. Shelf after shelf or obesity-inducing garbage. People with little or no will power must have a very difficult time walking through Tops.

The question is, does Tops have a responsibility to adjust their inventory in order to steer their customers into a healthier life style or should they simply give their customers what they want? We've seen some of the contributors to the societal obesity problem make changes. Fast food restaurants are offering healthy choices and have changed their cooking oils to a healthier blend. Many snack makers have also changed the way they make their products to make them "healthier".

Obesity in children is at an all-time high. Many argue that this trend is due to other factors that lead kids into sedintary lifestyles, such as video games, computers, etc. Children don't go out and play anymore.

Nearly 19 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight, and 61 percent of overweight young people have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children who are overweight also are more likely to suffer from bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and low self-esteem, and are more at risk for developing adult health problems, including heart disease and diabetes, according to the CDC.

But this isn't just an issue for kids. It's an issue for all of us. The costs associated with treating obesity-related illnesses are massive. A 2003 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the annual cost of treating obesity-related illness at $93 billion, or 9 percent of all U.S. health costs. And taxpayers paid half the bill through the government's Medicare and Medicaid health programs.

In 1991, only 12 percent of American adults were considered obese, according to U.S. government data. By 2001, that was up to nearly 21 percent, a 75 percent increase. Other studies indicate that 65 percent of the population is overweight and 30 percent is obese.

If those numbers are right, only 35 percent of adults are at or below a healthy weight. And 15 percent of children are overweight, double the number 30 years ago.

The health and economic effects of all this fat are daunting. Average U.S. life expectancy, which has been rising for more than a century, is poised to decline as a result. The annual death toll from obesity-related illnesses – diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers – is estimated at 300,000, rivaling the 400,000 who die from smoking.

These are stunning figures. Little did I know that a simple trip to the grocery store would open my eyes to this massive problem. Fortunately, each of us can do our own part to right this ship. As for me, I'm avoiding the cookie aisle and heading out for a walk.


Anonymous said...

Holy crap, Hobbes! You're turning into a Democrat!

The only obligation Tops has it to make as much money as it possibly can for its owners.

If people choose to buy crap, it's not Tops' fault. In fact, if they don't buy it at Tops, they'll likley buy it elsewhere ...

Larry S said...

Willpower isn't something you'll find much of in our area. A weekend trip to Wal-Mart is sure to confirm that. Does Tops have an obligation to stock their store with the health of the shoppers in mind? I'm not sure, but Wegmans stopped selling cigarettes, so maybe there is something to it.

Oedipus said...

My eyes, my eyes. Even the mental image of John Lombardi on a basketball court makes me want to poke my eyes out

Fat Tony said...

Yes, regulating fat people is the government's job. Tops has lots of healthy choices, it's whether or not you use to partake of them.

Larry Castellani said...

How refreshing is this!?!? Yeh, this isn’t the usual political topic, but despite what some might think, this is a political topic, if not more of a political topic than the partisan harangue that usually goes on here. I agree that as the corporate entity it legally is it’s not required to do anything beyond making money. That is, as the inhuman, parasitical, exploitative entity that most corporations usually function as, that’s all it’s required to do. If it were to function politically in the strictest sense of playing an ethical part in the public sphere of human self-determinative self-unfolding, then it would do more than irresponsibly sell the tons of non-food, or, un-food or anti-food that it does sell. It might at least in some dark backroom with cigars ablaze in a drunken moment of moral vulnerability at least raise the question whether pushing this crap is a conscionable thing to do. But, granted, that presumes this entity might actually grow a conscience or a real sense of the political. Given that we, i.e. all too many of us, are killing ourselves with “food,” we might consider that the economic culture effectively propagates the use of all too many products that are self-destructive. To dismiss this successful capitalist/Madison Ave social self-destructiveness as simply a matter of individualized responsibility is foolish at best and stupid at worst. But, then again, that implies that the politically-minded would also have to grow a conscience or at least a minimal awareness that individuality and responsibility is a socialized capacity. To me to be political means to take responsibility for the societal shaping of what the individual becomes capable of and vulnerable to. So go for a walk but take somebody with you for God's sake and boycott that godforsaken cookie aisle.

pirate's code said...

LC -- "I agree that as the corporate entity it legally is it’s not required to do anything beyond making money. That is, as the inhuman, parasitical, exploitative entity that most corporations usually function as, that’s all it’s required to do."

Gee, Larry, just when we were starting to get along...

On what facts do you base your assertion that "most corporations" are the evil empire and, if you have such facts, what are YOU doing about it? Said another way -- how's your 401-k or IRA these days? Are you invested in any of these amoral, parasitic, exploitive companies? How many of your family, friends and neighbors draw a paycheck from these companies? How many teachers, fireman, policemen, and so on, are able to draw a paycheck because these companies pay taxes?

In 1939, Arthur Page wrote, "All business begins with public permission and exists by public approval." That remains as true today as it did when ol' Artie wrote it.

Your latest harangue is as much a condemnation of people as it is evil corporations. You make the assumption that we, as consumers, are simply powerless in the face of the "capitalist/Madison Avenue" onslaught. To which I offer my most sincere...horseshit.

The antidote, if you will, to the evil corporate poison rests in all of us. It's called reason. It the ability to make choices in life. It's the ability to say, "no thanks, I'd like a better/different product." Certainly, some of us have more options than others, but hasn't that been the history of mankind? That is not a recent phenomena.

If we are so powerless, GM would still be selling the Corvair and Ford the Edsel. We could have any color telephone we wanted so long as it was black.

Corporate abuses exist, to be sure, and it might seem that they are increasingly plentiful and egregious. We hear about them more and more because such stories have become as sexy as political scandal.

At the end of the day, however, my experience is that companies live or die based on their ability to figure out what the consumer wants, produce it at price that is less than the consumer is willing to pay for it, and get it to the consumer.

In the end, though, it is the consumer that will determine whether or not that company survives.

So, don't blame my increasingly flabby physique solely on the cigar chomping, backroom dealing corporate devil. He is, in the end, only satisfying my demand.

The sidewalk in front of my house has been there for years. That I use it less and less is no one's fault but my own.

And, keep the government's hands off my Twinkies. The tofu is two aisles over. Want it? Go buy it.

Larry Castellani said...

Where to start? Firstly I think you could do a better critique than this. Even though corporate corruption runs wide and deep I didn’t call them evil. That makes it look like I’m waxing religiously moralistic or possibly Marxist. Nice try! But it doesn’t fly.

Corporatism is corrupt whether one or two escape the charges or not. But trying to provide evidence that most corporations are corrupt is like trying to provide evidence to Catholics that pederasty nearly qualifies as a sacrament of the church.

Moreover just as I don’t have to be Jesus Christ to be a Christian, I don’t have to be purified of all association with corporate wealth or power let alone the consequences of corporatism to provide valid non-hypocritical criticism. In short yes I do own a car and I do have a retirement plan. Oops! Caught with my pants down! You win! No, of course, you don’t. I joke.

To meet such obviously impossible standards would mean one would have to live on another planet. So your criteria of correctness here would require that unless I am from Mars I have no right nor grounds to critique corporatism. Just silly, not to mention illogical.

We live in a corporatized world (not to mention bureaucratically centalized at all levels of government). Only a philosophy of individualism like yours would even pretend that such exclusion would be possible. I can’t get away from my historical context. But again your implied argument with respect to all of my friends and family who benefit from the corps is like asking a soldier at war whether or not he is not safer because of all of his training, equipment and weapons. Of course he must say yes, but he’d be much safer if he weren’t at war.

And I make no such assumption that “we as consumers are simply powerless” vis a vis the corps. Testimony: my militant criticism. But their ideology has nicely hypnotically conditioned us to identify with the oppressor. Hey, if you kiss enough irrational ass you get a better “job” in the concentration camp, I mean, company. No, this still isn’t powerlessness; it’s false consciousness. It’s not knowing what’s really in our interest as human beings.

You seem to really believe that all human choices for all human beings are fully conscious, rational, even common sensical or obvious. What is your precious “reason” in this world? Define it if you can find it. The Iraq war is rational, reasonable? You’ve been reading too much DesCarte and probably Hobbes. Please don’t tell me that this is also the best of all possible worlds. And don’t tell me that the failure of Corvair/Edsel is evidence for human individualist rationality, the rationality of the market, etc.

So your answer to corp corruption is to desexualize media coverage of it??? Also, you really really believe that the corps simply and only do market research as opposed to manipulating not only perceived need and desire but also conditioning the very consciousness that is brainwashed into believing/feeling it actually needs or wants all the corporate crap that’s out there??? Wow!!! And sadly you delude yourself that you are solely in charge of your “demand” and that you are not a child of the most masterfully manipulative and narrowly monopolized marketing culture one can imagine??? That’s a very courageous moral stand. But assuming absolute responsibility for what’s really out of your control, as your “flab” testifies to and your covetousness of your twinkies demonstrates, is denial.

I hate to have to be the one to let you know that you are not an island unto yourself. You seem to fear that we have to throw the baby out with the bath water. We don’t. But why continue to prop up and defend so much that is indefensible. Why pretend that your presumed “choices” are not pre-selected offerings representative of a very narrow range of possibility of products, ways of life, presidential candidates, etc. I suspect you simply have to get yourself to admit that the history of corporate abuses are not just media exaggerations but signs of a cultural corruption that could in fact destroy us. Drama on my part? I don’t think so? Denial on your part? Probably.

I think your position is rooted in a diehard “individualism” that can’t see past the fear that such social critique as I attempt is reducing the social/cultural/political issue here to some collectivist or totalitarian solution. It’s not. Such “individualist philosophy” as yours in a mass culture such as ours is where the danger of collectivism and totalitarianism lay. … I’ll stop!! I need a twinkie and have to review my portfolio.

pirate's code said...

Sorry, Larry, for taking your words perhaps too literally. I guess when you referred to "most corporations" as "inhuman, parasitical, exploitive," I assumed you didn't mean "some" and assumed you were using words like inhuman, parasitical and exploitive in a negative sense. Was I wrong?

My frustration with your original post can be summed up this way...I am always suspicious of positions that are painted with such broad strokes. I believe that there are few absolutes in the world.

I find the gray areas in the middle of arguments more interesting and substantive than the stark black or white on the fringes.

In your second post, you wrote -- "It’s not knowing what’s really in our interest as human beings."

I've puzzled over this for a while. Are you suggesting that human beings have no sense of our own best interest? If that were true, how then would we ever solve the problem that is corporatism, as you call it?

You also wrote, about me, "You seem to really believe that all human choices for all human beings are fully conscious, rational, even common sensical or obvious."

Where, in anything I have written, did I suggest that? Even I, the brain-washed, Republican-registered, corporate automaton, know that humans will make irrational decisions. How else does one explain Silly Putty, the location of NCCC, the Backstreet Boys, or leisure suits? Or, more seriously, a quagmire of bad decisions following bad decisions regarding educational spending, the apparent inability to define a workable energy policy, or a war?

One of the great things about us is that we are complex -- rarely are all one thing or another. The same holds true for what we have created. It gets frustrating when we can't figure it out (Does my wife really want an honest answer to the question -- does this dress make me look fat?), but that only means we have to look a little deeper.

Howl at the industrial/military complex all you want. You might be surprised when, from time to time, someone like me will be standing with you. But be a little more precise about it.

Gotta run. I hear there's a sale on Twinkies.